MANY of you will have heard of the Tower of Babel. Well watch the Internet over the next six months for the electronic equivalent.The Web is going to look a lot different if the moves by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create new domain names become reality.ICANN is the agency that oversees Internet addresses and it adopted seven new domain name suffixes in November 2000 in an attempt to expand the previous list of top-level domains such as .com, .net and .org.At ICANN’s quarterly meeting in Melbourne last week, the agency authorised the completion of negotiations for the “unspons-ored” or publicly available top-level domains: .name for indivi-duals, .pro for professionals such as lawyers and doctors, .biz for businesses and .info for general use.Progress will soon be made on the “sponsored” or closed top-level domains: .aero for airlines, .coop for co-operatives and .museum for museums within the next few months.The suffixes will be sure to generate a lot of interest from domain name registrars and could see a new rush by companies and individuals unhappy with their current .com domain. We already have cybersquatting in the .org and .com domains, and this is more than likely in the .biz domain.But the ICANN rulings are merely the tip of the iceberg, as a challenge from US start-up New.net to provide more intuitive “unofficial” domain names should prove interesting. New.net are proposing 20 new suffixes like .shop and .kids and .travel to its customers, but these domain names will not be accessible to everyone on the Net.Only those people who sign up for New.net service, however, will be able to view the new domains, and although the company has cemented strategic relationships with some ISPs this still only represents a fraction of the Web’s users.Other Web users can activate their Internet browsers to recog-nise the new domain names by visiting New.net.If the system is not activated, however, the new suffixes will return error messages.DomainIsland.com is setting up another system, whereby people can register names (such as .name) in 7,000 languages and symbols as part of another, potentially competitive second-tier system.In addition, there are ongoing discussions at ICANN to sort out standardsfor registering domain names in non-Roman scripts, so that Cyrillic and Mandarin char-acters, for example, can be utilised.ICANN, a body formed to sort out technical standards to enable computers to talk to each other, with little formal legal power, will be the overall arbiter of dealing with the likely legal wrangling over the new suffixes and the competition from the “unofficial” names.In fact, both New.net and DomainIsland.com have registered the right to use the .name suffix.I suspect that these challenges to ICANN will see the official release of more names over the next few years, as the technical issues, unlike the legal ones, can be quickly overcome.Once there are enough new names available, in as many languages as are required, then the monopoly effect on these scarce resources will decline.The phrase dot-com may become part of the Internet’s history in only a few years.n Richard Keeves is managing director of Internet Business Corporation Ltd.
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